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I recently read an article, 17 things that change forever when you live abroad, and it could not have summed up our lives any better. There has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding as to why we would live abroad, especially in a country in the Middle East, but there is something invigorating about it. When someone asks me why, I generally can’t think of the right words to tell them, but I do know that your idea of home starts to change. You still get homesick, even from the smallest things, but, as that article says, I have learned that “home is the person traveling with you, the people you leave behind, the streets where your life takes place. Home is all those memories, all those long-distance calls with your family and friends, a bunch of pictures. Home is where the heart is.”

I have many homes, but welcome to two of the places that currently have my heart.

Over the past month we have spent more time at school than anywhere. It has been a whirlwind of emotions, but despite all of the craziness that comes along with opening a brand new school, we finally have beautiful classrooms! The picture with all the sweets in it is from our Eid party. This past week they celebrated Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, and they know how to celebrate. That is a small portion of all the other cakes, cupcakes, cookies, juice, etc. they brought in. Not to mention the bouquets of flowers and candy we teachers have been receiving. This culture is very giving.

I mentioned one of the themes of this experience is to expect the unexpected, and man has that been true. After staying in two different hotels, we are now on our second apartment. We live in a beautiful brand new building, but along with that we get to discover all the nooks and crannies that need a little more tender love and care. :) Qatar is expanding like crazy and they owe a great deal of that to hard-working laborers who come over here with little to no experience, yet they work like you have never seen. They are persistent and always have the biggest smiles on their faces. If we have learned anything so far, it is that attitude makes up everything. These people are so inspiring. Despite their best efforts, we couldn’t quite get rid of the sewage smell from our first apartment, so this past week we moved to another room in our building and all is well!

Weekend Fun

We started school this past week, and while I absolutely love my new kinder babies, it is fair to say we were all ready for the weekend. Last night we went to one of our favorite places in Qatar thus far, Souq Waqif (the outside market). In honor of our sweet Persian friend’s birthday, we went to an amazing Iranian restaurant where we had a 3 course meal for a little less than $20 a person! This place did not lack in detail, as very little does here, and the food was delicious. We started off with a yogurt soup, basically the cucumber sauce they put in gyros back home, to dip bread and vegetables in. After eating our lamb and fish kabobs, we tried a very interesting dessert. We aren’t sure what the white “noodle” looking things are, but they are super sweet and are soaked in rose water. The ice cream was pistachio and saffron. Very different.

Besides wandering around the malls and market we haven’t had a whole lot of time to really explore. Today we took off for the beach and sand dunes. Everything is obviously very beige and can seem a little bland some times,IMG_3319 especially after living in Costa Rica and Tennessee, but once you get out of the city just a little, the dunes and water do not disappoint. Best part of it was that we didn’t even sweat and it was still 106 out at sunset! The humidity the past two weeks has been fading and the words, “It actually feels nice,” came out of our mouths.

We also did something a little different and are hoping for the best. When we were taking at least 3 showers a day in August because it was so humid, we decided it was time to get some linen pants made. We bought some fabric at the market and found a tailor today who is making our pants for 50 riyal or about $13. I have no idea how this is going to turn out, and I’m guessing they don’t see too many white folks walking in since he didn’t think it was necessary to even get my name. Sunday we should have some new linen pantalones!

Expect the Unexpected

Yesterday we moved from our hotel to temporary housing. When you move to another country, the number one rule of thumb is to be flexible and to expect the unexpected. Originally we were going to move to an apartment near the school in Al Walkra, but for now there has been a slight change in plans. This year alone over 50,000 people are moving to Al Walkra to help expand the new airport. Needless to say, there isn’t enough housing for all of us to move at once. Families with kids are moving in to the original apartment Saturday, but we decided to stay behind in Doha for a little longer. We met some new friends from our school, and it didn’t take long for them to convince us to stay with them here in the big city. We will be here for at least a month. It’s a rough life… :)

We also got to visit the school yesterday. It was both exciting and a little overwhelming. We are helping start a brand new school, and by brand new I mean there is only a building with absolutely nothing in it. Starting Sunday (the work week here is Sunday-Thursday because holy day is on Friday) we will start working. We have at least 1,700 boxes of furniture and supplies to unpack and sort. Did I mention we only have two weeks before school starts?!!?? Our paid vacation will soon be over, but we are more than ready for the challenge. Founding teachers of Vision International School…how cool is that. :)

 

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“Somos Ticos!”

After coming back home from Mal Pais for another couple of days, we packed our bags for our first international excursion – to Bocas del Toro, Panama.  Bocas is an archipelago in northeast Panama.  We first drove to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and spent a night in Puerto Viejo before crossing the border early the next morning.  We’d done our research on the border crossing; it seems some have had it easy, others have had nightmare experiences.  Fortunately, ours was pretty simple.  We drove to the Costa Rican side, Sixaola, and parked at a long-term parking lot for eight bucks a day.  From there we walked to the tiny immigration office, filled out our paperwork, got our passport stamped, and began the somewhat nerve-wracking walk across the bridge connecting the two countries.  The bridge is an old railroad bridge that is in dire need of repairs – there are plenty of holes big enough to slip all the way through. On the other side, we had to go through Panamanian immigration and customs.  In Panama, like Costa Rica, you have to show proof that you are leaving the country in the form of a bus, boat, or plane ticket.  We didn’t have any of those because we drove to the border.  We’d read that they would also accept a receipt from the long-term parking lot.  When I showed my receipt, however, I was promptly told that this was only for Ticos.  I haven’t crossed many borders in my life, but I think it is fair for me to go ahead and say that in general, border patrol/customs agents are not very friendly people, nor do they have much of a sense of humor.  This Panamanian was no exception.  I promptly replied with a smile, “Somos Ticos!” (“We are Costa Ricans!”)  He didn’t find that the least bit humorous as he just held up my USA passport and stared at me expressionlessly.  I went on to explain that we live in Costa Rica and have applied for our visas, etc.  Begrudgingly, he let us through without buying bus tickets out.

Next was a quick stop in customs then into a taxi with three other travellers.  For $10 a person, we took an hour ride to Almirante where we then bought ferry tickets for $3.50 a piece to Isla Colon, the main island in Bocas del Toro.  The highlight of the taxi ride for Torie was seeing a man walking down the road with half a cow thrown over his shoulder.

Home near the ferry in Almirante

Home near the ferry in Almirante

“Half a cow” is not a hyperbole for a man carrying a lot of beef – the man was literally carrying half (yes, just recently sliced in half) of a cow on his shoulders.   The highlight for me was not seeing this man and his half of a cow. The ferry was a smooth and more scenic (in the traditional sense) ride to Bocas Town, then another boat taxi ($1 each) to the island next door where we would be staying for the next three nights. Bocas del Toro is an absolutely amazing place; it is what you think of when you picture Caribbean Islands.  The waters were unbelievably clear and filled with brightly colored fish, coral, and starfish.  Our most eventful day in Bocas was the day we went on a boat tour with two other couples staying at our same hotel.  Our boat captain Leroy picked us up at 8:30 and first took us toward Dolphin Bay, but we never got there because we came across the dolphins before we reached their usual home in the bay. A few pictures of the dolphins, and it was off to a few snorkeling spots and a lunch break in between.  The snorkeling was great- quite a bit better than anything we’ve seen in Costa Rica.  IMG_1459The vibrant reefs and clear, calm waters made for perfect conditions.  We finished the tour with a trip to the beach and some more photo opportunities of sloths hanging in the trees of an uninhabited island.  We made it back to the hotel  around 4:30 – not a bad tour for $20 each.

We had a great trip for many reasons.  The obvious ones being the new, beautiful landscape, wildlife, etc.  Another great part of our trip, however, was the people whom we were with.  Our guide was interesting enough, but he became even more entertaining the more beer he had throughout the day.

Starfish

Starfish

He was a guy who’d seen and done much in his life, including being a tour guide and working for the massive Chiquita banana farm that surrounds the Costa Rica-Panama border on the Caribbean coast.  He had all kinds of great stories about both tourists he’d met and about his own life and family.  We also got to know the other people on our trip, who were staying at our hotel.  Being on vacation in a place that attracts so many travellers creates a unique atmosphere.  How often if you were on vacation in the U.S. would you meet four strangers in your hotel and go on a daylong excursion with them the following morning?  One of the highlights of travelling for us is getting to meet both locals and other travellers.

Overall, our vacation has been everything we’d hoped it would be.  We got to see not only what is sure to be one of the most scenic places in the world for beach lovers, but also a whole new culture and way of life.  Costa Rica is clearly different from the USA, but Panama is so much different from most of Costa Rica – even the little we saw of it.  We’ve seen extreme poverty in Costa Rica, but not nearly on the scale we saw it in Panama.  It was a constant reminder of how fortunate we are and of how we need to find ways to make the most out of the gifts we’ve been given in life by helping others.

The past month has been remarkable, but I have to say, it feels good to be “home” again.  I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the last couple of months we’ve gotten very comfortable here in our new home and new life.  Not so comfortable that it will become a permanent option for us, but comfortable enough that we look forward to coming back here to relax and recharge after being out and about for weeks on end.

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Red frogs on Red Frog Beach

Red frogs on Red Frog Beach